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Anyone else forget about Damon Albarn until earlier today? The English musician, of Blur and Gorillaz fame, made headlines earlier today for comments about both Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Albarn is quoted saying Swift "doesn't write her own songs." When pressed, he went on to say:

That doesn’t count. I know what co-writing is. Co-writing is very different to writing. I’m not hating on anybody, I’m just saying there’s a big difference between a songwriter and a songwriter who co-writes. Doesn’t mean that the outcome can’t be really great. And some of the greatest singers—I mean, Ella Fitzgerald never wrote a song in her life. When I sing, I have to close my eyes and just be in there. I suppose I’m a traditionalist in that sense. A really interesting songwriter is Billie Eilish and her brother [Finneas]. I’m more attracted to that than to Taylor Swift. It’s just darker—less endlessly upbeat. Way more minor and odd. I think she’s exceptional.

Boy oh boy, where do we start? Of course I am perhaps Taylor Swift's biggest fan, so much so that even casual acquaintances know to ask me for my opinion any time she makes the news or releases a song. I'm also not a fan of Blur. So yeah, I'm going to be biased, both by my tastes but also by the body I exist in day in and day out. I am a woman who could lament for days about the bizarre way in which female songwriters and performers are discussed. The false equivalencies, the compulsion to degrade talent, and most concerning of all the borderline predatory nature with which some grown people in the music industry talk about very young women and girls.

For starters, we all know Taylor Swift writes 100% of her own songs. That's the whole reason why she's re-releasing the majority of her catalogue right now: Because she wants ownership of words she's penned herself. To make sure Albarn (and the entire world) knows what's what, Taylor took to Twitter this afternoon with the following:

To be fair, is the snippet from the LA Times removed from a little bit of context for the purpose of clickbait? Yes, but it's also the same essence of the statement made. Boiled down, apparently if some of your music is happy or earnest or traditional pop in nature, you're a "co-writer" who is uninteresting. Look, if you hate pop music just say that. We can have a conversation another time about how much of that belief is rooted in misogyny, too, but for now we'll cap it.

I won't mince my words here: There is a cultural problem with older men viewing women in the music industry as either vapid fuck-toy unworthy of praise or a weird, barely-legal genius who can be taken advantage of. We see this issue over and over again. In fact, before she was in her 30s and essentially being called a hack, every older man in the entertainment industry was clawing to tell Taylor Swift how talented she was.

Back in 2008 when Taylor Swift was a literal teenager, John Mayer is quoted as saying she "is an anomaly, and they only make a few Taylor Swifts every decade." In another interview, he said, "She's just strange, in all the most beautiful ways...just doesn't belong to this universe type of person. She's just that good."

If you're read up on your 2000s pop culture history, what soon followed was a brief romantic relationship between then-19-year-old Taylor Swift and then-32-year-old John Mayer. For context, it's now been over a decade since the two dated and Taylor only just turned 32. While there's nothing technically illegal about that age gap, you can't tell me an age gap like that doesn't function on its fair share of predatory behavior. Plus, there's nothing sexy about having to remind yourself and those around you that your relationship is technically legal.

The two met after Mayer asked Swift to feature on the song "Half Of My Heart," and whilst promoting the song and his album Battle Studies, was superfluous in his praise of Taylor's merit and genius. What followed? A breakup, followed by Taylor's third album Speak Now, which, oh by the way features not a single co-writer.

The album's fifth track, not-so-subtly titled "Dear John," laments on the relationship shared between Mayer and Swift, asking the question "Don't you think nineteen's too young to be messed with?" Once Taylor used her skill to turn against the well-intentioned more experienced nice guy who saw something special in her, she was apparently no longer the unique genius said nice guy thought she was.

I will say as a songwriter that I think it’s kind of cheap songwriting. I know she’s the biggest thing in the world, and I’m not trying to sink anybody’s ship, but I think it’s abusing your talent to rub your hands together and go, ‘Wait till he gets a load of this!’ That’s bullshit.

Just so we're clear, John, she was an anomaly when you were trying to fuck her, but it's cheap songwriting when she decides she no longer wants to? Got it.

Part of the reason, I believe, why Taylor Swift's reputation is tarnished is because she's made it clear that she takes ownership of her experiences. She has demonstrated to the John Mayers of the world that she has a point of view that holds weight, so as a result? She's a victim. She's a man hater. She's a serial dater who uses and abuses men who any guy would be foolish to touch. It's almost more succinct to just tell the misogynistic truth and say what you mean: She's too old and too smart, so you've removed her from your "impressionable, shiny, and new" bucket and put her into your "frigid, crazy cat lady" bucket.

To modernize the issue and bring things full circle, Billie Eilish appears to now be the new thing. Grammy darling and bedroom musician Billie Eilish has garnered quite a bit of legitimate praise for her dark experimental alt-pop sound. While I'm not really a fan, I do recognize that she has had a meteoric rise to fame while making music that is notably different from everything else on the radio. I've also noticed that she is somehow the new favorite artist of the John Mayer and Damon Albarn types.

The compliments are self-serving in the sense that there's always a tone of "I know better as a tenured professional and I have objectively good taste. I'm so generous to notice that this teenage girl is talented. Look how good and all-knowing I am for discovering what her peers have known for a while. What is my prize for correctly identifying that this young woman is smart and talented?"

Similarly, Ryan Adams (who, as an aside, thought Taylor Swift was such a genius that he did a bizarre cover of her entire 1989 album), came under fire in 2019 when the New York Times released an exposé on his rampant sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry. Part of the article details how he approached Phoebe Bridgers (now a household name, but at the time an indie singer-songwriter) with admiration and the promise of studio time.

Adams had her perform a song and said he was blown away, comparing her to Bob Dylan, Bridgers recalled. Adams gave her a pricey vintage guitar, she said, and told her to return to record with him the next day.
Beguiled by Adams’s energy and enthusiasm, Bridgers brought her best songs. Adams proposed putting them out as a 7-inch vinyl single on his label, setting her on a professional path. But as they discussed the record, Adams started sending Bridgers flirty texts, she said, and a whirlwind romance commenced. Bridgers said the singer began discussing marriage less than a week into their relationship, and insisted that she open for him on his European tour in a few weeks — “a golden pillar of success,” she recalled.
Adams told Bridgers’s mother that it was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to have someone like him looking out for her. Yet in the weeks that followed, Adams’s attention turned obsessive and emotionally abusive, Bridgers said. He began barraging her with texts, insisting that she prove her whereabouts, or leave social situations to have phone sex, and threatening suicide if she didn’t reply immediately.
When she broke off the relationship, Bridgers said, Adams became evasive about releasing the music they had recorded together and rescinded the offer to open his upcoming concerts.
When three songs by Bridgers were eventually released by Pax-Am in April 2015, bringing her serious industry attention, the media gave Adams credit for her nascent career.

Listen, I'm not saying older men aren't allowed to be fans of young women, but notice how many talented women in the industry don't receive the precious ingénue treatment because they are fat or not white or make music that is hyper-feminine. When the praise borders on idolatry and is targeted almost exclusively toward traditionally beautiful female artists of a certain age, I worry that it's a tad predatory. This is especially true when these men are senior in the industry and somehow manage to turn their praise into romantic advances. It's the classic "nice guy" notion of appearing kind or generous with the ultimate goal of personal gain. So in conclusion, I love when men love Taylor Swift. There's nothing hotter to me than a guy telling me "Phoebe Bridgers is so talented." I respect when guys vibe to Billie Eilish. I'm simply asking if these much older dudes can just buy these womens' records and let that be enough.

  • Writer's pictureLauren Sauer

I can't in good conscience call this a blog post because I'm not really saying much of anything. It's also not not a blog post, but really it's just some thoughts I've been thinking lately. I've been holding onto all of them like helium balloons, iron-gripped around the bundle of cognitive strings praying none of them slip out of my hands, but my hands are getting full. So here.

I walked to the UPS Store earlier today, awkwardly juggling an oblong package and a to-go iced coffee. It's the funniest time of year for fashion, as no one knows quite how to dress but has a desire to don burgundy and cable knit. I passed by women in boots and wool hats, boys in basketball shorts, elderly couples eating outdoors in windbreakers, and gym rats slicked with sweat. They're all somehow on the right track, because what do you do when the air is 55 and crisp when you wake up, but flirting with July temps by lunchtime?

Maybe it was the moody Spotify playlist coming through my headphones or a general predisposition toward sensitivity, but a lost dog sign taped to the light post on the corner nearly made me cry. On the way home someone was practicing electric guitar with their windows open, leaking disembodied major chords onto the sidewalk.

I moved into a one bedroom apartment last weekend. I don't have a couch and I'm nervous to watch my monthly expenses skyrocket, but I am deliriously happy. In true millennial white woman fashion, I bought a bundle of sage off of Etsy to cleanse the space while my belongings were still in cardboard. Little wisps of smoke made their way into the corners of the room while I thought about how loudly I can play my CDs now that I'm the only person with a key to the front door.

I've been listening to the same songs over and over again. I'm in that musical honeymoon phase when you discover an album that you just want to soak in. Is there any feeling quite like first memorizing the lyrics to a song you think you'll play for your children one day? I've been especially listening to that one with the trumpet and the lyrics that are eerily relatable despite never having been to Japan.

Sometimes I think I'd want to be a mom to a girl, but then I remember that time a stranger stuck his hand down the front of my jeans in a bar and I decide that if I had a daughter I would get so worried I'd cry or puke or both every single day of my life.

It seems nearly every day I learn about some other mundane thing I do that's actually indicative of being neurodivergent. Most recently I discovered that, allegedly, it's a trait of highly anxious people to seek out their old favorite movies and TV shows and watch them on repeat as a means of comfort. Apparently it's something to do with being soothed by knowing what to expect. I don't know if I buy that; it sounds a little pop psychologist to me. All I know is I've had the strangest itch to watch Along Came Polly lately, which is a movie I've seen at least ten times.

When I'm in the car I do my best introspective thinking. I think a lot about the sad parts of being an adult, like watching your parents and pets get older and learning that Caesar salad actually isn't very good for you.

People my age are starting to get married. It's been happening, but at least for a while there it was just my peers that were tangled up in their obligations to the military or to Jesus Christ. Now I just somehow know people who are earnestly in love and feel ready to enter that phase of life.

I'm absolutely devastated to report I've gotten to the age where when I tell people I want to write a book their reaction is less "that's really sweet" and more "well...I guess you should...get on that then?" Every few months or so I'll dust off the same Google doc, tack on a few paragraphs, then let it air out in an incognito window.

Wondering if anyone knows how to consistently make a good cup of coffee. I'm being serious, this isn't a smart ass question. Even if I do the exact same thing--same amount of freshly ground beans, same water, same technique--two days in a row, on Monday I'll have a cup of coffee worth writing music about, then on Tuesday I'll make myself what can only be described as hot dirt water.

Can a scientist please let me know why it is somehow, against all odds, always 2 o'clock in the afternoon? I swear I sit down at my desk to start work for the day, send some emails, re-focus my vision, and my clock feels comfortable reading off an hour that is far later in the day than should be allowed.

  • Writer's pictureLauren Sauer

I was a Creative Writing minor in college. Thankfully, my parents are the breed of supportive that allowed me to spend thousands of dollars on credit hours essentially devoted to people-watching and cramming as many metaphors that would fit into a single Word document.

In every class I took, whether it be Introduction to Fiction Writing, Food Writing, or Personal Memoir, the same thought would fester in my brain: Meta as it may seem, one day I need to write about this. This collection of contrived twenty-somethings and their musings on Emily Dickinson. This unique breed of college curriculum that convenes Tuesdays and Thursdays in the otherwise abandoned basement of the English building, always in that hour of late afternoon that sends beams of uncomfortable sunlight through the window for at least half of class. Classes my friends lightly made fun of, as they spent their days elsewhere on campus, unpacking the psychosomatic impacts of poverty or correctly identifying the microscopic parts of a plant cell.

Creative writing classes, in a nutshell, are some oatmeal-sweater clad, kind-faced woman in front of a chalkboard trying to teach how not to rely on cliches like "in a nutshell." They are desks intentionally arranged in a half-moon, so that every member of the group might be able to make eye contact with each person present.

Creative writing classes are poorly photocopied excerpts from Ralph Waldo Emerson, or sometimes if you're lucky something with some bite or levity. My favorite readings were always David Sedaris or Nora Ephron, though inevitably the classes in which we were assigned Ephron readings were always followed by classes in which my male classmates took great pride in dismissing the work for its "lack of substance." When I was nineteen I felt immense guilt for having enjoyed the "whipped cream" of the curriculum the best, but in years since, I look to my favorite essays with nothing but affection and knowledge that that criticism was rooted in misogyny.

Creative writing class, in my experience, was a collection of students plucked directly from Urban Outfitters ads or the crowd at a Nirvana concert. I always found it so hilariously cliche when I would walk by the library and saw a good two-thirds of the Creative Writing student base smoking cigarettes in the same tiny courtyard. I don't mean to make fun or try to seem holier-than-thou, but when they would shuffle into class in Doc Martens, smelling of stale nicotine and a need for approval, I couldn't help but make a mental note to jot it down later. Notably, this one guy in my Intro to Poetry class who, no lie, exclusively wore black turtleneck sweaters and Lennon-esque circular eyeglasses. It should come as no surprise to know he also had ragged blonde hair past his shoulders, that he would quizzically brush behind his ears as he would lean in and muse what exactly gave the author credibility to discuss mortality. Meanwhile the girl seated by the door with a sleeve of shoddily-done tattoos and a septum piercing would meaningfully nod and offer a "piggyback" comment.

I went to a university that, full disclosure, has an alarming lack of diversity. Most students I encountered were, to quote my mother, "very All-American looking," which is to say cut from the same cloth, later to be adorned with Greek letters. Every day when I went to pick up my coffee, the Starbucks barista would announce he had "an iced latte for Lauren," and anywhere from three to five blondes would approach the counter to intercept the order. There were very few unnatural hair colors or intentionally ripped band T-shirts on campus, so when all the self-prescribed misfits came to congregate in the same classroom, I guess it makes sense that a creative writing course would be the great unifier. For reasons mentioned above, it just felt like a brief visit to a parallel universe. After the professor dismissed the group from each session, the blue hair and unseasonable turtlenecks would disappear into a sea of American Eagle, only to come ashore again the next Tuesday.

I never thought of myself as better than anyone else in those classes; I'm simply reflecting on how silly it was for me to feel intimidated by my peers. I always did the assigned reading and turned in my essays on time, but I still felt like I belonged less than the other kids in my classes. I didn't read Edgar Allen Poe in my spare time and I liked Top 40 music, so I was convinced I was stupider or was less worthy of sharing my opinion. Most of my classmates took their notes in tiny leather-bound Moleskines, while I jotted down mine in a spiral notebook with Taylor Swift on the cover. For this reason, I'm sure my classmates were judging me just as I was judging them, coming to the conclusion that I was basic or vapid. It was only when we workshopped one another's drafts that I felt I deserved a seat at the table.

Because that's another thing about creative writing classes: With enrollment comes the unique opportunity of emotional bleeding in front of your peers, for a grade no less. Creative writing classes are best summarized by spending $9.75 at the library printing fifteen copies of your most recent essay to later distribute and receive back once they've been assaulted in pen by bright red question marks. In job interviews, I tend to reference creative writing workshops as an example of a time I've responded well to criticism. No one other than a practicing writer can describe to you the unique torture of sitting in silence for an hour while fifteen peers have a spirited debate about their merit on the page. Creative writing classes are truly, at their essence, paying to have fellow white children ask you to go into more detail about your most private trauma. An example that best comes to mind--and this is true--is that time this guy named Jack (clad, of course, in cuffed jeans, a button-up, and sueded boots) said to me in front of the entire class while I was rendered silent, "I mean, this is...a good start...but I was really interested in the part where your dad called you a bitch, and in revisions I think it'd be cool if you could unpack that further."

All that said, I wouldn't trade my formal creative writing education for anything. I got to read widely, better control my use of semicolons, and confidently take up space on a page. I was given this weird measured voyeurism into lives that have since drifted from my realm of awareness. I sat in office hours and asked my professors how I could best channel my feelings in poems, while my friends only got an hour a week to go over test corrections with their professors who dealt in concrete rights and wrongs. I started excavating themes I hope to one day get into an actual book. I was once, to borrow a phrase jotted on top of a portfolio by my Nonfiction 101 professor, "Best in class!"

I did a lot of judging, and frankly I didn't make any friends, but I got the degree and I got the experience to observe and turn it into something tangible later on. After all, writing is just committing the absurd to memory and reciting it later to a keyboard.

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